Guide to B-School Admission

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Prodigy Finance - June, 22 2021

17 min read

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Applying for B-school may be a lengthy process, but the rewards of your masters makes the year-long effort of applications worth it. If you’ve shortlisted your B-schools and taken the GMAT test, then now’s the time to find out how to proceed with your resume, essays, recommendations, and interviews.

MBA Resume

What is an MBA resume?

An MBA resume is the first part of your entire MBA application. Admissions committees get a glimpse of your professional achievements and consider that while evaluating your application.

Why do you need an MBA resume?

The MBA resume is used by admissions committees to evaluate your skills and potential. A study by the GMAC suggests that for full-time MBA programmes, the resume makes up 15% of the MBA application.

Your MBA resume is the centerpiece of your application. More often than not, admissions officers refer to your resume throughout the admissions process, such as during the personal interview.

MBA resume format

Most resumes are single-page documents. An MBA application resume usually has four sections: professional experience, volunteer experience, education, and additional information.

Ideally, the section on professional experience should have the maximum content, because the admissions committees want to see how competent you are in an actual dynamic business environment.

The next section, comprising all your volunteer experience, is gaining importance nowadays. Use this section to show the admissions committees what you’re passionate about, and show them what giving back to the community means to you.

The education section doesn’t need a lot of thought; you just need to write about your academic background here. Ensure that you mention any official recognition that you’ve received, as well as any research projects that you undertook.

The additional information is where you can show your uniqueness. Keep in mind that this section will not contain any information that is strictly required by admissions committees; it’ll only have things like interests and hobbies that can boost your application. So, don’t include this section if you’re running out of space, and you don’t have anything particularly distinctive to write.

Take a look at these sections in more detail here. Also, keep in mind that there is no set, official format for writing your MBA resume. You can switch up the order of these sections, or add other sections that you find relevant.

Tips on how to make a great MBA resume

Writing a great resume for MBA applications can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are a few tips to get you started:

● Quantify everything that can be quantified

Using specific figures and numericals is usually better than writing in qualitative terms because numbers make it easier for admissions committees to assess your work.

● Make important achievements stand out

Admissions officers have to go through a lot of resumes. If they can gather the important points in your resume just by glancing at it, it’ll make their job easier and work in your favour. Using an easy-to-read format like bullet points, putting headings in bold, or underlining them ensures that admissions officers get a broad overview of the entirety of your resume and understand the crux of it without having to read every word.

● Emphasise your leadership skills

Writing about your roles and responsibilities is important, but what you really need to show the admissions committee is how you put your leadership skills to use in tough situations. So, give instances of how you identified possible solutions to a problem and implemented them, or other situations that highlight your leadership capabilities.

Sample MBA resume

Going through a few sample MBA resumes can give you a good idea of how to go about writing your own. Take a look at various examples of MBA resumes here.

MBA application essays

You also need to get started on your essays at this point. Your essays are one of the most important and time-consuming aspects of your entire MBA application. The MBA essays give you a chance to write and elaborate on things that you weren’t able to mention in detail in your resume.

MBA essay format

There is no specified format for MBA admission essays, but a commonly used format is:

● Introduction (1 paragraph)

● Body (3 paragraphs)

● Conclusion (1 paragraph)

The length of each paragraph will depend on the word limit specified by each business school. The introductory paragraph should capture the reader’s attention, the body of the MBA essay should contain statements (including facts and figures) that support the theme of your essay, and the concluding paragraph should wrap up the entire essay and make it a cohesive whole. Take a look at a detailed MBA admission essay format here.

MBA essay tips

Your MBA admission essays are your best chance to let admissions committees see the real you, beyond the marks, scores, and academic records. Here are a few things to keep in mind while writing your essays:

● Mention real-life examples in your essay

Your MBA admission essay is supposed to be personalised. Quoting incidents that have happened to you in real life will bring that personal touch and give the admissions committee an idea of your personality and spirit.

● Write with passion

Admissions committees want to see the real you. They want to know what you’re enthusiastic about. Don’t write a dull essay. Your MBA essay can be seen as a reflection of what you’ll be like in business school, and writing a passionate essay can help them to understand the potential you have.

● Incorporate instances that show why you’re a great fit for the school

Simply saying that you’re a good fit for the school is not enough. You need to back up that claim with evidence. Give the admissions committee specific reasons as to why you’re a great candidate.

● Don’t fill your essay with unnecessary technical jargon

Your resume and academic records are enough to show that you know your subject well. The MBA essay is meant to highlight other parts of your personality. You can write about academics if you want to, but keep the technical terminology to a minimum.

● Follow the word limit

This is pretty obvious, but keep your essay within the word limit prescribed by the business school. You don’t want to come across as irresponsible or be seen as someone who can’t follow basic guidelines.

● Read and re-read your essay to eliminate mistakes

Typos, grammatical errors, and spelling mistakes are important to correct. These small errors can make your essay seem shoddy and can put off the admissions officers.

5 MBA admission essay themes

There are five recurring themes across the essay questions posed by business schools. Here’s a look at each and how to address each point strategically.

1. Why do you want an MBA, and why now?

B-schools want ambitious students who will extract the maximum value from their programme by going on to achieve great things in the future. Stanford GSB’s motto is: “Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.”

For this kind of essay, you need to highlight the role of an MBA in helping you achieve your dreams. Demonstrate that there’s a logical flow to your plan and that the MBA will help you to take the next step. Candidates who seem capable of achieving their stated goals without an MBA can easily be rejected.

2. Why this MBA?

Each business school has a distinct identity and culture, and the possibility of a cultural mismatch between you and the school is quite high. Some programmes nurture collaboration; others have a more competitive spirit. Some have a lot of international students and a few cultural norms — you won’t fit in at all of them.

The business school will look for students who love the school, and can convincingly explain why they would be a great fit there. You won’t be able to do this if you don’t know the school intimately. So, take an in-depth look at the values and vibe of the school, so that you can successfully persuade the admissions committee to give you a place.

3. What will you bring to the student and alumni community?

Now that you’re clear about what a certain school will bring to you, describe what you will bring to it.

This is an opportunity to offer the insights and connections you bring, as well as the ideas that you can share and contribute. A school’s alumni network is among its most valuable assets. The admissions committee wants to see how your presence and participation will enhance the overall experience — for others as well as for yourself.

4. What’s your career vision?

Your ability to convey an inspiring and logical career vision shows your commitment to the journey, even if the destination changes along the way. An MBA is a transformative experience that opens new doors for you. The admissions committee wants to see you envision how the MBA will add value to your career goals.

Choose a path that makes sense given your academic and professional background, and highlight the skills that will help you to take your career to the next level.

A clear vision is evidence that you possess the abilities to develop a savvy job search strategy – even as your ambitions evolve.

5. Your strengths, weaknesses, failures, and triumphs

For strengths or accomplishments, underscore your best attributes and relate them to what makes you an ideal MBA candidate, thereby circling back to your sales pitch.

While highlighting your accomplishments, state examples, and real-life incidents that showcase how you’ve overcome the challenges you faced and how you put your skills to use to do so.

Regarding weaknesses, please don’t prompt the person reading your file to snort in disdain by citing your cursed perfectionism or propensity to work too hard. These are transparent attempts to sidestep the question, and admissions committees are constantly on the lookout for such superficial answers.

Instead, look for something more self-aware and honest, and, whenever possible, show how you’re actively addressing your shortcomings. Be sincere and straightforward without dwelling on the negative.

Schools are interested in what you’ve learned from your experiences and mistakes, whether you can bounce back from failure, accept criticism, and forge ahead with new awareness. Show them the strength of your character through your MBA essay.

Recommendation Letters

You also need to get started on your recommendation letters.

If your application essays are about memorably conveying your achievements and ambitions, recommendation letters offer valuable insight into how you’re perceived by others. The recommenders you choose, and the enthusiasm, thoroughness, and strength of their testimony, are essential components of your personal profile.

Most MBA programmes require 2 references, and you must be clear about each school’s expectations.

Who should be your MBA recommender?

The most vital ingredient is relationships – make sure that your recommender knows you well and is prepared to take the time to write a supportive and thorough letter on your behalf.

Admissions committees want objective, candid insights that bring your credentials to life. They are looking for a recommender’s honest reflection backed up by concrete evidence.

A fancy title or a high post will mean nothing if your recommender doesn’t know you well. They should be able to talk about your abilities, potential, as well as your areas of growth in detail.

Don’t approach anyone who hasn’t had any meaningful professional interaction with you. For example, alumni of your target programme will be able to state the qualities required by a successful student, but they won’t have any knowledge about your specific skill set.

The best recommendation letters, therefore, are from a current or recent supervisor. If you think this will jeopardise your job reality, and you would prefer to ask someone else – for example, a client – consider mentioning this in your optional essay. Admissions officers understand such situations, but would rather explicitly know why you made this decision rather than have to draw their own conclusions.

Ideally, your recommender should be a senior who can credibly provide first-hand accounts of instances where you’ve shown your best qualities. However, be sure to have a conversation with them where you clearly state what your target school is expecting from the recommendation letter. Don’t assume that they’ll know what to write.

Tips on how to get a great recommendation letter:

  1. Prepare your recommenders and supply them with relevant details to write your recommendation letter.
  2. Give your recommenders ample time.
  3. Aim for a recommendation from someone whom you’ve recently worked with.
  4. Remember to follow up and thank your recommenders for their support.

Presenting your academic credentials

● Take the GMAT

● Arrange and finalise all materials for your application

If you haven’t taken the GMAT yet, don’t leave it later than July. Now you’ll also need to finalise material for all your documents, such as the university transcripts, academic profile, and video essay, to name a few.

Positioning yourself as a credible candidate for a top MBA programme means proving you can handle the quant-heavy coursework. You’ll need to be savvy with critical reasoning, language, and, of course, maths. Your academic credentials, as evidenced by your undergraduate transcripts and GMAT scores, are integral components of your MBA application.

Presenting your GPA

Does your undergrad GPA fall below your target programme’s standards? Or, were you a humanities major with little quant exposure? You can compensate for perceived academic shortcomings by enrolling in a standard quant-based course such as accounting, statistics, and finance. It’s an opportunity to build your skills while demonstrating your ability to handle the academic rigour. Usually, it doesn’t matter where you take the class, but you’ll want a B+ or higher (according to the American system) to be taken seriously.

You might also overcome a subpar GPA by showcasing a strong GMAT (or GRE) score - particularly in the quant portion of the exam. Some top schools are placing increasingly greater emphasis on this section.

How decisive is your GMAT score?

Most schools reveal the average GMAT scores achieved by their students, to give you an idea of what is expected from you. The GMAT is gaining importance, but remember that the GMAT is not the only thing that admissions committees consider.

The weight of your GMAT score in your entire application depends not just on you, but also on your desired programme. For those of you with undergrad coursework that’s strong in quants, and who work in a related field, the GMAT may be a necessary hurdle more than a point of differentiation. Depending on the type of programme and its academic culture, your professional distinction, personal accomplishments, and other unique differentiators will receive greater emphasis.

MBA Video Interviews

How to ace the MBA video questions

More programmes than ever before are adopting a video component in their MBA applications. Recently, MIT made the leap from optional to mandatory. Previously, INSEAD, Rotman, and Yale incorporated the practice. While schools pose different questions and time limits to respond, all are hoping for an unscripted and authentic glimpse of your character, maturity, passions, and motivations.

Since it’s nearly impossible to sidestep a camera these days, it’s easy to get complacent or think of the video question as an easy win.

Don’t fall for it.

Here are a few tips for acing the video interview questions:

  • Be yourself

The video question isn’t just a challenge – it’s also an opportunity. Because business schools are looking for the right candidates, this is just another way for them to get to know you.

  • Practice

Unlike written essays, you need to think on your feet during the video interview – you don’t have the benefit of editing or revising. You only get one chance to convey your points with poise, confidence, and clarity.

So, grab your cell phone and capture yourself responding to sample questions. Some MBA programmes post sample video questions on their website. Take a look at these so that you know what to expect and aren’t taken by surprise during the actual video interview.

  • Be consistent

Ensure that the video interview component of your application doesn’t contradict the rest of it. If you’ve said something in your written essays, stand by it. This consistency will ensure that you have a well-rounded application and remove any unnecessary problems.

A few other things you should consider before sitting for your video interview are:

● Ensure that your face is well-lit

● Ensure that your background is pleasant, uncluttered, and free from distractions. You could also use a simple background image - a feature that comes with most programmes for video calls.

● Try to sound natural and ensure that you can hear yourself well

● Make sure that your non-verbals (e.g. attire, posture, general presentation) are consistent with how you would show up to an in-person interview

● Be prepared to deliver interesting, concise, and sincere answers

● Ensure that your answers complement your overall MBA application narrative without being repetitive

Common questions asked in MBA video interviews

  • What risks have you taken in your life and what did you learn from them?
  • If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?
  • Did you ever get negative feedback, and if so, how did you react?
  • What is your favourite book and why?
  • How would your boss describe you?
  • Who has had the greatest impact on you and why?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
  • What will your classmates be surprised to learn about you?
  • Tell us which project in your work has been a key milestone in your career and why?
  • What is the most meaningful thing you have done for anyone else?

Once you’re done with your video interview, your application is almost complete.

Completing your application

● Revisit your resume

● Prepare your biodata form

● Review your social media presence

Once you’ve polished your resume, it’s time to get started on your Biodata form. A biodata, or a biographical data form, is a one- to three-page document that contains the applicant’s personal information, educational background, occupational history, and other relevant factual information.

If the school you’re applying to requires you to submit a biodata form, get started on it now.

Another important thing you’ll want to do is review your social media presence. Many admissions committees check social media accounts such as LinkedIn, so ensure that these accounts do not portray you in a negative light. This may seem like an insignificant thing, but many admissions officers have advised that a derogatory social media profile can hurt the applicant’s chances.

Final touches

● Finalise and proofread your essays

● Ensure that your recommenders are on track

Most business schools have first-round application deadlines falling somewhere in September. By this time, your entire MBA application should be ready. This is the time to proofread your entire application and correct any mistakes you might find.

Be sure to go through everything carefully. An application with typos, spelling mistakes, or grammatical errors will portray a shoddy work ethic. Your MBA application is the first thing that admissions committees come across, and you’ll want to make the best impression you possibly can.

Further, if your recommenders haven’t done their part yet, be sure to gently remind them to do so. It’s better to have your MBA recommendations well before time so that you don’t have to pester anyone at the last minute.

Keep a buffer time of at least one week to provide for unforeseen difficulties or complications. Your MBA application should be ready to be submitted a week before the deadline. This way, you can avoid last-minute hassles, and have adequate time to correct or account for sudden problems.

Finally, once you check everything off your to-do list, submit your application. Don’t leave this till the last second, because on the last day, there’s going to be a lot of traffic on the website. It’s better to submit your MBA application well in time to prevent falling prey to technical or other issues.

What to do after submitting your application

● Reply to college emails

● Get ready to appear for personal interviews

Once you’ve submitted your application, the admissions committee will take a good look at it, and revert to you. During this time, your inbox will likely be flooded with emails from colleges. Make sure you read these emails carefully and reply to the ones that require you to do so.

In a while, you’re going to be asked to appear for personal interviews if you make it through the application scrutiny process. This is an excellent opportunity, and you need to be well prepared to give personal interviews and significantly boost your chances of securing a seat. If you get an MBA interview invite, it’s a clear indication that the business school sees some potential in you. Now you need to do your part to prove to them that you deserve a place in their programme.

Interview process

What is an MBA interview?

An MBA interview is the next step towards securing admission to a business school after your application has been reviewed by the admissions committee.

Not everyone gets an MBA interview. While MBA applicants’ acceptance rates are comparatively low (Admissions acceptance rates for the top 10 schools fell to a record 14.5% selectivity in 2017), if you secure an interview, your chances leap to about 1 in 2. Those are good odds!

How to prepare for MBA interview

MBA interview preparation should not be taken lightly. Here are a few MBA interview tips:

● Be prepared with strong and convincing answers for common questions asked during MBA interviews, such as “Why this school?” and “Why do you want to do an MBA?”

● Practice with a peer or parent. Make them conduct mock interviews. This will help you be more articulate and authentic during the actual MBA interview.

● Answer the question that’s asked. Don’t stray away from the topic unnecessarily.

● You don’t need to answer immediately. It’s completely fine to take a few moments to think over the answer in your head before you start speaking. This will give you a chance to organise your thoughts and avoid fumbles.

● Set the right tone. Strike a balance between humility and confidence, and be honest with your answers.

● Prepare a couple of points about yourself that you want the interviewer to know and remember, and try to subtly put them across during the conversation.

● Practice speaking about your strengths and weaknesses. Interviewers are looking for someone who can introspect and is not afraid of admitting their faults. At the same time, try to put a positive spin on your weaknesses by letting the interviewer know what you’ve done to overcome them.

● Ask thoughtful questions. The MBA interview is a two-way process, and this is your chance to learn about the programme, beyond what’s readily available online.

● Presentation matters. Sit upright, be dressed appropriately, and arrive on time.

Common MBA interview questions

MBA interview questions can often stump even the best of applicants if they’re not calm and well-prepared. Here are a few common questions asked in MBA interviews:

● Tell us about yourself.

● Why do you want to do an MBA?

● Why this school?

● Why should we admit you to our business school?

● What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?

● What are your short term and long term plans, and how will an MBA help?

● Do you have any questions for us?

These are very general questions, and having a rough answer in mind before the interview can prove to be very helpful. An MBA interview is a chance for you to boost your chances by giving excellent answers and enhancing your image in the eyes of the admissions committee.

The next steps

Getting into business school is a big deal!

To secure your spot, some business schools may require a non-refundable deposit. Funding your business degree and moving abroad is costly, and many students opt for financial aid in the form of scholarships or student loans. If you need a student loan to finance your international MBA, Prodigy Finance can help.

Got your MBA admit?

Find out how Prodigy Finance can help you fund your degree.